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Be Afraid, Be Very Afraid

by Bonnie Arant Ertelt, BS'81

Summer 2010The Mind's Eye  |  Share This  |  E-mail  |  Print  | 
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Early press materials for the Oct. 31 concert by the Blair Percussion VORTEX are issued with a tongue-in-cheek warning: “Don’t ENTER THE VORTEX if you’re afraid of the dark.”

Members of Blair Percussion  VORTEX, shown during their spring concert, must think like actors and move like dancers while playing  various percussion instruments.

Members of Blair Percussion VORTEX, shown during their spring concert, must think like actors and move like dancers while playing various percussion instruments.

While the rest of us may be afraid, it’s clear that Blair’s student percussion ensemble and its artistic director, Michael Holland, certainly appear to be fearless. After previous collaborations with artists like Mary Ellen Childs of CRASH; Daniel Bernard Roumain, BMus’93; and DJ and remix artist Brad ‘Kali’ Bowden, the fall concert, which takes place on Halloween this year, looks to collaborations with artists closer to home—Assistant Professor of Musicology Jim Lovens-heimer and composer and Associate Professor of Music Composition and Theory Michael Slayton—for a chilling theatrical adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe’s classic short story “The Tell-Tale Heart.”

“Jim did a post-concert discussion when we had Mary Ellen Childs here, who is the composer for CRASH,” Holland explains. “He was fascinated from the beginning, wanting to know how we put [a percussion concert] together, and what the rehearsal process is like because it really is different from a chamber music concert. So, over a lot of conversation, and because of the fact that the next concert happened to fall on Halloween, we started knocking around ideas. Jim had wanted to do this adaptation of ‘The Tell-Tale Heart’ for a long time.

“It’s scary because it’s all internal,” Holland says. “It gets at that dark side that is in all of us. Someone who has done something that is against every law of God and man is trying to keep a secret and can’t. The intensity of the score that Michael Slayton is creating will match the intensity of the story that Poe has written.”

Lovensheimer is approaching “The Tell-Tale Heart” from the vantage point of an interrogation.

“Jim will do all the speaking, but the perception from the audience will be that of an interrogation, of someone slowly giving up what he knows he has to give up, but that he doesn’t want to give up, because it will expose him as the criminal he is.”


Also on the bill is Edgard Varèse’s Ionisation, credited as being among the first Western pieces composed for percussion alone, and the 1913 one-reel film Suspense, co-directed by Lois Weber and Phillips Smalley—an early thriller that will keep the audience on the edge of their seats. VORTEX will provide live accompaniment for the film.

“I was born in the wrong era,” Holland says. “For all the work I do that is on the cutting edge, I love that period of film starting from 1895 going into the ’40s for the creative output it generated. As a percussionist, it’s a natural. Most of the sound effects in this era are percussion-based.”

The Blair Percussion VORTEX Halloween concert will take place in Turner Hall at the Blair School of Music at 7 p.m. Admission is free, but tickets are required. Tickets will be available for pickup at the Blair main desk beginning Oct. 1.

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© 2015 Vanderbilt University | Photography: john russell

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